Monday, June 30, 2008

Preaching or Lecturing?

OK, I don't know this guy, but I came across his blog on and this post really hits the nail on the head. You can find it in its original form at I have copied and pasted it below for your convenience.

So a funny thing happened on the way to Twitter the other day . . . . OK, that’s not a good beginning. But really, some friends and I were on Twitter the other day (Have you seen those things that say “Twitter is not chat?” Well then why’d they put a “reply” button?) and I was sort of thinking aloud, which I find the internet good for. I’ve been thinking about a couple of different things lately: preaching and Christ.

I’ve been thinking about preaching because, the more I do it, the more I grow to love it. It has become one of the highlights of my week. I’m not saying I’m great at it, just that I look forward to it. It’s difficult to explain, but I feel “alive” behind the pulpit; like it is a vital moment, a battle between kingdoms and there is much at stake; all of which, of course, is true. Plus, as we look to the new church, it’s been a great time to think through many issues.

I’ve been thinking much about Christ lately because I do that a lot. I’ve become fascinated once again with Christ, particularly as the center of all Scripture. Jesus Himself tells the Pharisees that the Scriptures bear witness of Him:

John 5:39-40: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus unfolds for two disciples how all of the Old Testament is actually about Him:

Luke 24:25-7 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

All of this has prompted the Twitter discussion I hinted at but never got to: if a sermon is not ultimately about Jesus Christ, can it truly be considered a sermon or is it just a lecture? If Jesus is not the point, I have become convinced that the “talk” in question cannot be considered a sermon, at least not for Christians. It’s sad, but much of what passes as “preaching” in the modern evangelical world is nothing more than self-help methodology wrapped up in Christian terminology. But isn’t the Christian message itself that we cannot do it on our own? Christ is our only true perspective.

What do you think? Is this an overstatement?
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tasteful, Trendy, or Trashy...How Are You Dressing Your Daughter?

FoxNews' self declared "sexpert" has written an editorial that is helpful for parents of girls. As a former youth pastor and a pastor today, it is scary to see what teenage girls (and younger sometimes) are allowed to wear by their parents. Even the secular world is standing up and taking notice. Parents, read the editorial below from By Dr. Yvonne Kristín Fulbright.

Oops, they did it again. Major retail outlets are sexualizing young girls.

This past spring, Kmart sold cropped sweatpants flashing the words “True Love Waits” across the derriere. The pants are no longer available in stores or online, but they have reignited the debate on how we’re dressing our children.

Whether they are wearing it or stating it, are we pimping our youth with sexual messaging? And if so, who is to blame?

Parents have long been dealing with the problem most recently tagged the “Britney Syndrome.” While the pop princess and her counterparts Beyoncé, Christina and Jessica have been pegged for corrupting American youth, it seems every decade has an icon who challenges our fashion tastes.

For my generation, it was Madonna. I remember longing to emulate the Material Girl’s netted, cut-off tops, lacy tights, short skirts and rubber bracelets. I begged and pleaded with my mother to let me do so. I could be super cool, and dance just like Madonna, if only I could bare my stomach with a midriff top. But my mum firmly said, “No.” Go figure — I was only 10.

Gone are the days of good sense when it comes to fashion sense for children. For years now, we’ve seen little girls running around in tube tops, miniskirts, thongs, and cropped t-shirts. Our jaws dropped as they donned short shorts with the words “Juicy,” “Yum,” and “Hot” printed across their butts. We nearly had a stroke when Bratz released tiny padded bras and matching lingerie sets for 6-year-olds. We were beyond dumbfounded when “Hooters Girl (In Training)” t-shirts came out for toddlers.

Sure, Kmart’s sweatpants, which are encouraging abstinence, aren’t exactly raunchy clothing. But they’re equally offensive. Whether you agree with the message or not, it’s a bit disturbing that little girls are once again being sexualized. And sadly, plenty of other companies have been doing this for years. When is it going to end?

The marketplace will continue to exploit young people unless we do something about it. The marketplace will continue to turn our youth into sex objects as long as parents are still buying products seeking to do just that.

We can blame the media all we want to. We can blame those making and supplying the clothing. But children’s attire comes down to what parents are purchasing and allowing their youth to wear. Whether it involves stilettos or claims virginity status, parents are enabling their children to wear clothes with sexual overtones.

The lines of what’s appropriate and what’s not when it comes to dress are very blurred for our youth. We need to talk to them about what is permissible to wear, depending on where they are going and whom they are with.

If you see a youth who is inappropriately dressed, take that opportunity to discuss it with your child. Ask her what she thinks of the outfit and why it is being worn. Ask her what messages that kind of outfit sends to the public. (Yes, those messages may not be politically correct, but they are a harsh reality we need to face.) Use this as an opportunity to share your values and opinions — and, equally importantly, to listen to your child’s needs, issues, and interpretations.

Now, I can’t promise that these moments are going to be easy. Although many parents feel uncomfortable buying inappropriate clothing, they feel badly about not doing so. They sympathize with the peer pressure their child faces. They want their child to feel accepted and happy.

Making matters more complicated, your child may throw a “hissy fit” if she is not allowed to wear the sparkly, low-cut shirt, hip-hugging jeans or platform sandals. But don't give in to pressure and allow her to look like a little Lolita. You’re the parent here.

There are, however, ways you can compromise. There are lots of things you can do to make your child feel attractive. Perhaps you can buy the more conservative versions of such inappropriate clothing. In my Madonna-obsessed days, my mother allowed me to wear the harmless rubber bracelets and the sleeveless, netted top I longed for – as long as it was full-length and did not show any skin.

Children need to understand that many adult styles are not for kids, and they shouldn't be wearing them in the outside world. At the same time, we can’t shame sex or our sexuality with negative messaging. We need to acknowledge the fact that we’re all sexual beings from the day we are born. We need to balance these difficult conversations with information about healthy sexual decision-making, effective communication skills, setting sexual limits and how to be assertive when it comes to your sexual boundaries.

Good parents want their children to feel good about themselves — to love themselves, their bodies, and their budding sexuality as is age-appropriate. Good parents — and not some clothing line — should be offering kids firm, thoughtful guidance when shopping. You need to make sure that that good parent is you.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is This Baptist, Is It Even Christian?

David Roach, writer for Baptist Press has written an article outlining a presentation from a workshop at the CBF General Assembly this week. It is my sincere hope that the views expressed by this workshop are not the overwhelming views of the CBF. However, I believe that the presence of such a presenter that questionst the salvific effect of Christ serves to highlight the vast chasm that exists between conservatives and liberals. Suffice it to say, the SBC would not allow this to be presented at its annual meeting, and if this is what brought about the split, then I for one am glad to be a Southern Baptist debating church discipline rather than a liberal baptist debating Christ's actual work in salvation.

I have pasted the article in its entirety below, it is worth your time.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)--Salvation once meant belief in a series of doctrines about Christ, but the advance of society has caused it to become a quest for self-fulfillment, John Killinger said June 19 in a workshop at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Memphis, Tenn.
"Now we are reevaluating and we're approaching everything with a humbler perspective and seeing God's hand working in Christ, but not necessarily as the incarnate God in our midst," Killinger said. "Now, that may be hard for you to hear depending on where you are coming from, but we can talk more about it."
Killinger, executive minister and theologian in residence at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, based his presentation on his book "The Changing Shape of Our Salvation," a 2007 release from Smyth & Helwys, a CBF publishing partner.
In the computer age, Killinger argued, religion moved from a belief in doctrines to a quest for self-fulfillment drawing on useful tidbits from an eclectic variety of faith traditions.
"Doctrine isn't the driving force to many people today" except "to the fundamentalists who insist on it," Killinger said. "But doctrine is a thing of the past now religiously."
Pastors can follow this cultural shift by preaching about Jesus' human side rather than insisting that He was God and that He always existed, Killinger said.
"There's an altered view of Scripture and of the role of Christ," he said of Christianity in today's world. "Christ is still Savior to most of us, but maybe in a slightly different way than before.
"I find from pastors a greater and greater reluctance to preach from the Gospel of John, which used to be the greatest pleasure for most preachers because John was so assertive about the incarnation and the role of Christ" versus "the tendency to go back to Mark and Matthew and Luke to see the more human side of Jesus, who was anointed at the time of His baptism to be the savior of Israel, but not necessarily to be the preexistent one that we find in John."
When an audience member asked if this view compromised the Gospel, Killinger replied that it represents a more advanced understanding rather than a compromise.
"Jesus Himself has had a lot of things said in His behalf that He never intended. This is one of the things that's going on today in biblical studies -- and I think is much more promising than some of the fundamentalists will allow -- is that we are questioning whether Jesus Himself said this or whether an institutional church that grew up in Jesus' wake said this. This was the purpose of the so-called Jesus Seminar," Killinger said.
"I'm just suggesting that I think we need to be a little less certain about what Jesus meant, what He was about, what His life and work were about. I think we're reevaluating all that."
For example, Jesus did not conceive of Himself as the Savior of the world and may not have viewed Himself a sacrifice at all until the crucifixion, Killinger said.
Killinger said he benefits from the mystical experience of reading John's Gospel privately but cannot advocate John's high view of Christ in serious preaching or scholarship.
"There are moments when I can do that privately and mystically myself," Killinger said of benefiting from John. "But at the same time, in terms of the cultural development of Christianity, I have to look at what the scholars are saying about the first three Gospels."
Many CBF pastors agree with his views of salvation, Killinger said, citing an experience at a gathering of pastors in South Carolina. When he asked them what salvation meant to them, they all talked about self-fulfillment and love rather than doctrine, Killinger said.
The pastors also said they did not disbelieve in an afterlife but were not overly concerned about it, Killinger said. When asked whether they thought people of other world religions are going to hell, the pastors replied that they did not think in terms of heaven and hell, he said.
During the same workshop June 19, Killinger said the Old Testament book of Daniel "fibbed a lot." Even though Daniel claims to be written earlier, it was actually written in the second century B.C., he said, and pretends to prophesy about events that occurred previously.
"The scholars almost all admit Daniel fibbed a lot because, as a book, it was actually written in one time and set back in time to make it look as if the prophecies it made came true," Killinger said. "That would validate other prophecies it was going to include, you see. So that's cheating a bit."
Killinger was scheduled to lead two additional workshops June 20 titled "My Life with Jerry Falwell" and "A Dramatic New Interpretation of the Gospel of Mark."
In its "General Assembly Guide" the CBF says, "The opinions presented in General Assembly ministry workshops are those of the workshop presenters and do not necessarily reflect of the viewpoint of, or endorsement by, The Fellowship or its members.
"Holding to the principles of soul freedom and church freedom, General Assembly workshop presents (sic) do not speak for the Fellowship as an organization or for any of the Fellowship's members. The ministry workshops are a time for learning and exchanging ideas and are not indicative of personal or organizational doctrinal positions."
David Roach is a correspondent for Baptist Press based in Louisville, Ky.
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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why Missions?

There are, of course, many compelling reasons to be and go "on mission," but what is the most compelling reason? Is it our love for the lost, our joy in evangelism, the opportunity to help others? All of those are wonderful reasons, however, it is important to keep in mind that the primary reasonas is the fact that Christ has commanded us to go. God is glorified in our obedience and in the salvation of sinners.

The love for the lost may wane if a rebellious enemy of the cross spits at your message. Working to help others who seem not to appreciate your help might erase some of your joy in helping. Evangelism may even lose it's joy if the harvest is not plentiful. However, if we keep in mind that God is glorified as we go and that God has commanded, then we have our minds focused on that which will never let us down. God alone is worthy of our glory, and as the object of our love, we will never be disappointed if we will but look to honor him above all else.
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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Coffee May Extend Your Life

For all of the coffee aficionados like myself, this is the study we have hoped for.

(WebMD) Coffee drinkers, rejoice. While you might be using it for a "pick-me-up," coffee may also be extending your life.Whether you are on a first-name basis with your barista or simply refueling from the office coffee pot during the day, new research suggests that drinking coffee, even in large amounts, might help you live longer.

Coffee drinkers in the study had slightly lower death rates than non-coffee drinkers over time, whether their drink of choice had caffeine or not.The findings do not prove that coffee is protective, but they strongly suggest that drinking coffee in large amounts is not harmful if you are healthy, researcher Esther Lopez-Garcia, Ph.D., of the University of Madrid, tells WebMD.

Among women, drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was associated with an 18 percent reduction in death from all causes, while drinking four to five cups was associated with a 26 percent reduction in risk.

The risk reduction in men was smaller and could have been due to chance."We can't say from this one study that coffee extends your life, but it does appear that it doesn't increase the risk for death for people who are healthy," she says.

The full article can be read here.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Preachers, Pastors, CEOs, and Passion for Preaching

When men (boys, in my case) are called to preach that's exactly what they think..."I've been called to preach." It is a little later that those called to preach usually realize that the call to preach is also the call to pastor. Pastor is that little word used to refer to an elder in the church one time in the New Testament that paints the picture of a shepherd loving, leading, feeding and protecting his flock. Eventually, when God sees fit to place this "preacher" in a position to "pastor," the excited young man learns the difficult lesson that the pastor is also expected to be CEO of everything that takes place related to the church.

I know, John Piper's great book reminds us that pastors are not professionals, but that does not erase the expectation and the necessity of administration, putting out petty fires, and the overall stress of "managing" a NPO. I suppose the greatest frustration comes when "preachers" realize that they are expected to do so many things that are unrelated (at least seemingly) to their "call to preach."

If I may encourage other pastors, preachers, and church CEOs, guard your flock and return to your first love. God did call you to preach, the other things may very well be neccessary, but the call to preach must be tantamount in the pastor's life. Try to shed your frustrations, let the budget approval wait a day, spend extra time praying over and preparing your sermon this week. Preach the Word, and love it.

Robert Smith says, "Something happens to the carriers [of the gospel] as they share the gospel. It is not just what they see, hear, or feel; it is all three dimensions." So today, say it, hear it, and feel it. Experience the Word the way you expected to when you were called. Share it the way you hoped to when you stood before your church to announce the call that God had put in your life. Feel it the way you felt it when you stood to deliver your first sermon.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Will We Live or Will We Die?

This ia a great call to action by Dr.Akin.

Jun 10th, 2008 by dannyakin

In June 1985, Southern Baptists gathered in Dallas, Texas for their annual Convention. It would be the largest gathering of a Protestant denomination in history. It was a critical moment.On Monday night prior to the Convention’s two day meeting, Dr. W.A. Criswell closed out the annual Pastors Conference. The title of his address: “Whether We Live Or Die.” He knew our denomination was at a crossroads and that the decisions we would make in the coming years would chart our course and impact the health of our Convention. He was convinced that we had before us two options: one road would lead to life and usefulness for the Kingdom of God. The other would lead to decline and eventually death. I believe Southern Baptists are facing a similar scenario a little more than 20 years later. The context is different, but once again we are confronted with important issues that cannot be ignored or papered over. And, they must not be caricatured or misrepresented. We must face them squarely, honestly and most of all biblically and theologically. Only then will we discover if we can truly walk together as a unified denomination.The death of Adrian Rogers is, in my judgment, the symbolic moment that signaled a new day in terms of leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention. Things are now different. I am convinced in this new day and context we need men with a vision for what can be called “A Great Commission Resurgence.” Building on the “Conservative Resurgence,” we need a new passion and commitment to the final marching orders of the Lord Jesus.There is no question in my mind that a true and genuine Great Commission Resurgence will of necessity be wed to a strong and healthy theology. The two must go together and remain partners for life!I want to raise and attempt to answer two questions:

1) Why should we come together in a Great Commission Resurgence?

2) How can we come together in a Great Commission Resurgence? 

I. Why Should We Come Together In A Great Commission Resurgence?

1) We are in agreement as to a common Confession of Faith to guide us, The Baptist Faith and Message 2000. 

2) We are in agreement on the inerrancy, infallibility and sufficiency of the Bible. Some would say the battle for the Bible has been won and it is time to move on. I would sound a word of warning. The battle over the Word of God did not begin in 1979, it started in the Garden of Eden. The battle for biblical authority will never be completely and finally won until Christ returns in power and glory. 

3) We are in agreement on the necessity of a regenerate church. 

4) We are in agreement on the exclusivity of the gospel. 

5) We are in agreement on the sinfulness and lostness of humanity apart from Christ.  

6) We are in agreement that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Salvation is a free gift in which human works plays no part.

7) We are in agreement that the Great Commission is a divinely mandated assignment given to the Church by the Lord Jesus and that it is a task we are to give ourselves until the end of the age. I have never met a Southern Baptist who says I am a non-Great Commission Christian. They would never say this is who they are. They just live like this is who they are. This must change at every level of personal and denominational life.

II. How Can We Come Together In A Great Commission Resurgence?     

1) We need a sound theology, not a soft theology or a straight-jacket theology. Our Confession is a solid foundation for a sound theology that avoids the pitfalls of a soft theology as well as the quicksand of a straight-jacket theology. 

2) We need to let a biblical theology drive and determine our systematic theology. I believe the safeguard that will keep us from falling into a theological trap of a sloppy or narrow system is to let a biblical theology drive, determine and dictate our systematic theology. We must have a text-driven theological system. This will enable us to avoid those theological ghettos that may espouse a nice, neat theological system, but that do so at the expense of a wholesome, well-rounded and comprehensive theology. 

3) We need a revival of authentic expository preaching that will lead us to be genuine people of the book. In the days ahead we must aggressively pursue a pulpit agenda of what I would call “engaging theological exposition.” We must wed substance and style, content and delivery. We must teach the whole counsel of Scripture book by book, chapter by chapter, verse by verse and word by word. Authentic exposition will also help us recapture the truth of Luke 24 that all of the Bible testifies to Christ. It will pursue its holy assignment in light of the Grand Redemptive Story of Scripture. Moralistic and self-help preaching will be set aside as weak and wholly inadequate in building healthy churches and healthy doctrine. 

4) We need the balance of a Great Commission Theology. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the apostle Paul makes a remarkable statement: “imitate me as I imitate Christ.” I would submit to all of us that is exactly what we need to do as we join in an unbreakable and permanent union the twin disciplines of theology and missions.  I am convinced that the greatest missionary and theologian who ever lived was Jesus. I believe the greatest Christian missionary and theologian who ever lived was Paul. He was a missionary who wrote wonderful theology along the way! Here are the models for our emulation.  

5) We need to love and respect each other as brothers and sisters in Christ even though we are not in complete agreement on every point of theology. One of our problems in recent days has been semi-Arminians with an attitude and Calvinists with a chip on their shoulder. The shrill rhetoric, sloppy history and theology, and unchristian words and actions on both sides of this issue have resulted in a number of unnecessary misfortunes. Many of you have seen this up close and personal. Could it be that the real problem is a lack of love for Christ, an inadequate theology that is robust, and agendas for church life that push to the back row the reaching of the lost both at home and across the globe? Could it be that our lack of demonstrable and evidential love for one another on numerous levels has compromised and wounded our witness?

Dear brothers and sisters let us not forget that it is not by a perfect theology that the world will know we are Christians. It is by the way we love one another. We need to move from face to face confrontation to shoulder to shoulder companionship for the cause of Christ and His gospel. 

Conclusion:Wedding a healthy, well-informed and robust theology to a consuming passion for the evangelization of the nations, we must come together, as never before, to carry out the final command given by King Jesus. We may not agree on everything, but we agree on more than enough to work together for our Lord Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission. So, will we live or will we die?  Will we come together for life or fracture apart in death? I make my choice for life. It is my hope and my prayer that you will join me.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Books for Guys--Maybe for dad, Maybe for Son, Maybe for You

I stole this post from Albert Mohler (but since I am citing it now, I guess its OK). I'm always interested in anything that might inspire men and boys to read, especially after reading a few weeks ago that 95% of men never read another book after graduating high school. This is a trend we must work to reverse.

Here are some suggested books from Dr. Albert Mohler that may do just that...

I am repeatedly asked about books that boys and men will want to read. The fact is that many guys just do not read for fun (if much at all) and yet, every now and then, they read a book that captures their attention. This list is for the moms and wives who are looking for a book that just might light that fire.
One reason for low interest in reading among males is the fact that much of the reading they are required to do in school is so uninteresting or demoralizing for boys. I believe that reading is appetitive. Readers develop a more ravenous appetite for books when they discover that they want to read and actually enjoy it. Here are some recent books that men and older teenagers are likely to enjoy.
1. Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (Knopf, 2008).
Spy thrillers and suspense novels attract millions of readers. One Minute to Midnight reads like a suspense novel, but it is about events that actually shook the world. The Cuban Missile Crisis is one of those moments in history which could have spelled disaster on a global scale. Michael Dobbs traces the narrative of those crucial days when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war. One Minute to Midnight serves to remind us that the crisis could have ended very differently. The story he tells is enriched by solid research and good writing.
Dobbs looks back and argues that the world should be thankful that Kennedy and Khrushchev keep their cool, even as their own aides and advisers took the crisis to the threshold of nuclear war. President John F. Kennedy plays the central role in the narrative and Dobbs clearly sympathizes with the young president. This author might be faulted for understating Kennedy's own role in instigating the crisis (appearing weak to Khrushchev at their summit in Vienna in 1961 and authorizing the Bay of Pigs disaster) but Dobbs cannot be faulted for making the story boring.
A generation that knows this story through the movie Thirteen Days needs to read One Minute to Midnight. Read the book, then watch the movie again and see the story in a new light.
An excerpt:
The paradox of the nuclear age was that American power was greater than ever before--but it could all be jeopardized by a single, fatal miscalculation. Mistakes were an inevitable consequence of warfare, but in previous wars they had been easier to rectify. The stakes were much higher now, and the margin for error much narrower. "The possibility of the destruction of mankind" was constantly on Kennedy's mind, according to Bobby. He knew that war is "rarely intentional." What troubled him most was the thought that "if we erred, we erred not only for ourselves, our futures, our hopes, and our country," but for young people all over the world "who had no role, who had no say, who knew nothing even of the confrontation, but whose lives would be snuffed out like everyone else's."

2. Alex Kershaw, Escape from the Deep: The Epic Story of a Legendary Submarine and Her Courageous Crew (Da Capo Press, 2008).

The tragedy of the USS Tang is one of the great but lesser-known stories of World War II. The submarine was one of the deadliest ever to serve in the Pacific theater and her exploits were the stuff of naval legend. In October 1944 the submarine and her crew were poised to complete yet another amazingly successful run when one of her own torpedoes malfunctioned and circled back to sink the submarine.

While most of the officers and crew were lost, a few brave souls escaped from the sunken submarine (at almost 200 feet under the surface) only to be picked up by Japanese ships as prisoners of war. Near death, the survivors had then to survive the deadly treatment they received at the so-called "torture farm."

Escape from the Deep is a compelling story and a reminder of the awful price paid by so many during that global war. Read this book and go thank a World War II veteran.

An excerpt:

After the last man had exited, he would bang on the trunk--the signal for the escape door to be closed by a lever from inside the torpedo room. Then the seawater would be allowed to drain into the bilges and another four men would take their place in the escape trunk. Unfortunately, because of the Japanese patrol boats above, banging on the trunk placed the men in a terrible double bind. The only way they could communicate with the men waiting their turn was by banging, and yet the sound was bound to give away the Tang's position to the enemy at some point. It seemed that they were doomed if they didn't and doomed if they did.

3. Jamie James, The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge (Hyperion, 2008).

Just show me a male human being who is not fascinated with snakes -- some more than others. One of those who as boy and man was on the "more" end of that scale was Dr. Joe Slowinski, one of the world's greatest herpetologists. As Jamie James observes, "Like most people, herpetologists typically take a greater interest in snakes that pose a threat to human life than those that don't." Slowinski was no exception to that rule, but he had an even greater (and earlier) fascination than many others in the field. Even as a boy, he was hunting down and capturing venomous American snakes. (Not an advised activity, dear reader.)

In 2001 Slowinski was in Burma leading an expedition to capture venomous snakes. During the expedition, he was bitten by a many-banded krait, considered the deadliest snake in Asia. Even as he died, he was collecting information on the snake, its venom, and its tragic effect. Slowinski does not appear as a heroic figure in the book, but his life and death became the stuff of legend in the world of herpetology. Readers of The Snake Charmer will learn a wealth of background about this man, the world's venomous snakes, and our fascination with creatures that can so easy kill us.

An excerpt:

As his friends gathered around, Joe calmly explained what was happening to him. No one in the world knew more about the venom of Bungarus multicinctus than Joe Slowinski. He described the effects of a slowly deepening paralysis: The snake's venom works on several different parts of the nervous system simultaneously, blocking the nerve impulses that transmit instructions to the muscles, including those required to maintain life. There will be no pain, he told them. "First my eyelids will drop; I won't be able to hold them up." Soon he would lose the ability to speak and move his limbs, he said. Within a few hours, his respiratory system would shut down: The paralyzed central nervous system would be unable to instruct the diaphragm to breathe, causing a swift death by asphyxiation. . . .

As the morning wore on, Joe's physical condition deteriorated precisely as he had predicted it would. In stark contrast to the hysteria that prevailed after Joe was bitten by the cobra when he was filming with the National Geographic team, the scene at the schoolhouse in Rat Baw was wonderfully calm, even solemn. Joe lay down on his sleeping bag in his tent, with Moe Flannery and Guin Wogan lying next to him to provide human warmth and comfort. The men quietly gathered nearby. Joe asked someone to find an Ace bandage he could wrap around his right forearm to slow the traffic of blood and lymph in his hand, though by now the toxin had passed throughout his body. There was nothing more to be done except wait and see how serious the bite was.

4. Stanley Weintraub, 15 Stars: Eisenhower, MacArthur, Marshall -- Three Generals Who Saved the American Century (Free Press, 2007) Also available in paperback edition.

The rank of five-star general (General of the Army) was approved by Congress in the midst of World War II because American generals such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, and George C. Marshall were leading international forces that included, at least formally, general officers of other nations who outranked them. All told, nine men would wear the five stars -- four Army generals, four Navy admirals, and one air force general. When Gen. Omar Bradley died in 1981, the rank was officially retired.

In 15 Stars, Stanley Weintraub recasts the story of World War II through the experiences and lenses of three of these rare leaders -- Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Marshall. These men's lives often intersected each other and each became instrumental in the effort to win World War II and, as Weintraub describes, "save the American century" and far more. This is a compelling read, combining biography with a fast-paced account of the war and its times.

An excerpt:

MacArthur's date of rank would precede Ike's by two days. Pleased with the star, and that he would outrank Eisenhower if only fractionally, MacArthur rushed a saccharine radiogram to Roosevelt, "My grateful thanks for the promotion you have just given me. My pleasure in receiving it is greatly enhanced because it was made by you." Unwilling in Leyte to wait for official insignia, he had a circle of five small stars crafted for him by a Filipino silversmith in Tacloban, using American, Australian, Dutch and Philippine coins to symbolize the national elements of his command. Two of his generals ceremoniously pinned the circlets on his lapels.

Marshall wrote a laconic two-sentence appreciation of the president's "confidence." Eisenhower cabled Marshall to thank Roosevelt for him, but the real trust in Ike's capacities came from the intentions of Marshall, Stimson, and the president to leave Eisenhower free from nagging by Washington. "I shall merely say now," Marshall cabled, "that you have our complete confidence."

5. Richard Brookhiser, George Washington on Leadership (Basic Books, 2008).

Many books with the words "on leadership" are disappointments -- written by those who merely ransack a biography of a great leader for superficial and often saccharine insights. George Washington on Leadership is an exception to this pattern. Richard Brookhiser knows George Washington, having written biographical and historical works on Washington and his fellow founders.

In George Washington on Leadership, Brookhiser writes insightfully about what we can learn from the "indispensable man" and his model of leadership as man, general, and the nation's first president. Brookhiser also writes honestly about Washington's "learning curve" from his teenage years to his exit from the world stage upon his death. This book is both interesting and stimulating, and this generation of young men can use all the good models of leadership they can find.

An excerpt:

If a leader leads in the forest, and no one hears him, is he really leading? A great part of any leader's time is spent in making himself known, by communicating to others: to his organization, to his public. He tells the organization what to do, and the public how to think about what was done. Both target audiences, of course, are at liberty to ignore what they are told, which obliges the leader to be skillful.

Our notions of those who lived before the invention of photography and recording are formed almost entirely by the written words they have left us--a fact that favors the literary. As a result, Washington, whose writing was clear and solid but rarely sparkling, has faded a bit. If it were not for his image on Mount Rushmore and the money in our pockets, he might have faded a bit more. But in his lifetime he was very present, and a master of communication.

6. Andrew Nagorski, The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow that Changed the Course of World War II (Simon and Schuster, 2007).

Moscow turned the tide of World War II on the Eastern Front, even as Moscow had reversed the course of Napoleon's army and ambitions. Most Americans are probably generally aware that the Soviets Union was (eventually) a major ally in World War II. Fewer know that what Russians still call the "Great Patriotic War" led to the deaths of millions upon millions of Russians, both soldiers and civilians.

In retrospect, it is easy to see that Adolf Hitler's decision to launch "Operation Barbarossa" and invade Russia eventually spelled the end of the Third Reich. Hitler's armies simply could not sustain a two-front war against strengthening allies.

Still, it did not look that way at the time. The Wehrmacht marched quickly through Russia toward Moscow -- but there it was stopped. Andrew Nagorski tells the story of that epic battle with great skill. The story is brutal, honest, and important.

Nagorski refers to the battle for Moscow as "203 days of unremitting mass murder." As Nagorski explains, Stalin and his generals eventually made fewer mistakes than Hitler and his generals. German General Fabian von Schlabrendorff would one day look back (after joining the conspiracy against Hitler) and say: "This defeat, however, was more than just another lost battle. With it went the myth of the invincibility of the German soldier. It was the beginning of the end." The Greatest Battle captures the reader's attention with its honest recounting of this brutal battle.

An excerpt:

By all accounts, Hitler kept changing his mind about the importance of seizing Moscow. He'd predict that a quick victory there would produce the collapse of the Soviet Union, but after encountering more resistance than expected, he'd act as if it wasn't at the top of his list of priorities. One clear reflection of this can be found in Goebbels' diary entry on March 20, 1942. In it he flatly declares: "The Führer had no intention whatever of going to Moscow." Yet a few lines later, he states that Hitler's plans for the coming spring and summer consist of "the Caucasus, Leningrad, and Moscow." For a leader who had scored his first victories by a string of audacious actions, his behavior during the battle for Moscow revealed a new vacillating side to his character, which would become increasingly visible as the war dragged on.

7. Richard Preston, Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science (Random House, 2008).

Richard Preston is one of a rare breed -- a science writer who knows how to tell a story with danger, suspense, and plenty of excitement. His earlier book, The Hot Zone, told the discovery of the deadly Ebola virus and the work of the U.S. military's virus labs. That book was something like what would happen if Stephen King wrote medical reports.

In Panic in Level 4, Preston revisits Ebola, along with an eclectic collection of other scientific and medical stories. There is a lot to fascinate here -- and a lot to fear. These bugs mean to kill us.

An excerpt:

We know that Ebola virus was one of the more powerful bioweapons in the arsenal of the old Soviet Union. In the years before the Soviet Union broke up, in 1991, bioweaponeers had reportedly been experimenting with aerosol Ebola--powdered, weaponized Ebola that could be dispersed through the air, over a city, for example. The Soviet weaponized Ebola was apparently stable enough that it could drift for distances in the air and still infect people through the lungs when they breathed a few particles of it. This is why the U.S. Army was studying it: the Army researchers were trying to come up with a vaccine or a drug treatment for Ebola, in case of a terrorist or military attack on the United States with Ebola.

Advisory: Language in quotations.

8. Ian W. Toll, Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy (Norton, 2006).

Americans invest legitimate and hard-earned pride in the U.S. Navy. Most citizens could not imagine the United States without a globe-spanning navy. It was not always so. Indeed, the young nation had so little expectation of being a naval power that it gave France its best vessel after the war and resigned itself to land-based forces.

It was not to last. President George Washington saw the need for a navy, and he signed the legislation of 1794 that called for the construction of six frigates. Those six vessels became the nucleus of what became the mightiest navy the world has ever seen. The young nation has no such ambitions, but the challenge posed by the Barbary pirates taught Americans that they would be a navel power, or no power. In Six Frigates, author Ian W. Toll recounts the founding era of the U.S. Navy and tells the story well.

An excerpt:

Peace with Britain had removed the threat posed by the Royal Navy to American merchant ships, but it had also left them without the umbrella of protection the Royal Navy had provided before 1776. For the first time, the Stars and Strips were seen on the high seas and in foreign seaports – but the flag was seen flying only on richly laden and defenseless merchant vessels, never on ships of war. Greedy eyes studied the ships of this new nation the way wolves study sheep. The British let it be known that the Americans no longer enjoyed their protection. The wolves were hungry; the sheep were fat, numerous, and slow; and there was not a shepherd in sight.

9. Byron Hollinshead, editor, I Wish I'd Been There: Twenty Historians Bring to Life Dramatic Events that Changed America (Doubleday, 2006).

I once had a professor who described some books as "bathtub reading" -- the kind of light but informative reading that comes in smaller doses. I Wish I'd Been There is the perfect example of bathtub reading material Editor Byron Hollinshead has brought together twenty capable historians (many of them well-known) and asked each of them to imagine being present at a key event or turning point in American history.

Each chapter can be read as a unit. Carolyn Gilman writes of Meriwether Lewis standing at the Continental Divide, Thomas Fleming writes of John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry, Jay Winik writes of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, and Robert Dallek imagines John and Robert Kennedy in a meeting about the challenge of Viet Nam.

I Wish I'd Been There may start as many arguments as it counts in readers, and that is just fine. Read and join the arguments.

This excerpt is taken from Geoffrey C. Ward's chapter, "The Sick Man in the White House," about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Ward is explaining why so many people so close to the President could miss the fact that the man was clearly dying:

Then, too, everything going on around him seemed calculated to keep him in command. Hindsight tidies history. Since we know that FDR died in office and that the Allies went on to win the war without him, it seems self-evident that he could have stepped aside gracefully without affecting that triumph. But that is not how things looked on April 2. As FDR and his doctor talked that morning, the papers that lay scattered across the president's bed made clear that there was nothing foreordained about an Allied victory or the shape of the world that would follow it.

10. Byron Hollinshead and Theodore Rabb, editors, I Wish I'd Been There: European History (Doubleday, 2008).

Just like the movies, books often lead to sequels. "Book 2" of I Wish I'd Been There is devoted to European history. This volume may be even better than the first. Once again, the book offers twenty chapters, each a complete story. Tom Holland writes of Hannibal crossing the Alps, John Julius Norwich writes of a key event in the rise of Venice, Paul Kennedy writes of the Battle of the Nile, Charles Riley writes of Picasso's visit the ballet, and John Keegan writes of the German surrender to the British in World War II.

An excerpt from Holland's chapter on Hannibal:

Hamilcar, although obliged to return to Africa as commander of a defeated city, had remained confident that Carthage could reclaim her former preeminence. Restlessly, he had scouted about for new horizons. The Carthaginians, by the terms of the peace treaty forced on them by Rome, had undertaken a complete withdrawal from Sicily; and so it was, in 237 B.C., that Hamilcar Barca turned his attentions instead to Spain. Naturally, before leaving Carthage, he had made sure to offer up a sacrifice to Ba'al Hammon, greatest of the city's gods. Accompanying him to the shrine that day had been his eldest son: nine-year-old Hannibal. As the sacrifice reeked before them, Hamilcar asked the boy if he wished to sail for Spain as well. Hannibal nodded eagerly. Hamilcar had then ordered his son to lay his hands upon the bloody viscera of the sacrificial victim and swear a solemn oath. "Never to bear goodwill to the Romans."

Read, ponder, learn, and enjoy. Go ahead, feed that appetite.


Coming soon: "Five Great Missionary Biographies" and "Books for Boys"

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

How To Pick A President

The June issue of Christianity Today has a wonderful article titled, How To Pick A President: Why Virtue Trumps Policy. I'll not spoil the article for those of you who have not read it yet (if you do not subscribe, the article is online now), but the basic premise behind the article is that a virtuous man (or woman) is much more capable of leading than one defined by certain policy decisions. We may not be able to determine why a person holds certain political positions (is it for the vote or out of conviction), but the lifestyle of a person will tell the true story of who that person is.

The virtues argument by the authors is built from the Greek and Judeo-Christian combination of 7 virtues. The article presents a great argument for the investigation of a candidates personal life and not only public life because the same failures that exist in private will eventually show themselves publicly in different incarnations. At the end of the day, Christians must necessarily look beyond the policy issues of candidates to the man or woman behind the policies.

Often times leaders (which is what presidents should be) are called to make the tough decisions that will not be popular (Reagan, for instance, was cautioned by most of his advisors to not say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," but we are all glad that he took the unpopular risk and brought new and added security to our world). Unpopular decisions may affect negatively upon re-election campaigns, but doing the right thing is always right even if it is not appreciated.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008


You know, it makes you feel good to be remembered by the people you love. More times than not, its not the kind of gift, but the unexpected gifts in life that really make your day. This week I have received two of those--a box of steaks and a box of books--from friends who just wanted to say thanks and we care. I was blown away.

It reminded me of just how important it can be for us to say thanks in unexpected times and ways. When I was in college, it was the little card in your mailbox that said PACKAGE that really got me (and all of my other classmates) excited. Today, its the package in the mail or the UPS truck out front. Gifts do not have to be expensive, sometimes a card communicates love and appreciation as much as anything in the world.

The most important thing is not what we give, its simply that we do give and that we do show appreciation to those who are meaningful in our lives. Who has made a difference in your life recently? Let them know with a call or a card, or if you feel really generous, a box of books or steaks!

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